As a basketball coach and as a hockey writer, my favourite players have always been those who worked hard just to make the team.
Likewise, I tend to root for the underdog team in the proverbial David v. Goliath matchups.
And besides geography, the main reason I like the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League is because the majority of its 12 teams play in small-market towns with populations of 10,000 or less.
A few years back, when the Blind River Beavers were competitive and well-coached by Jim Capy and Todd Stencill, they were a small-market team that was very close to being on par with the big-market Soo Thunderbirds.
The Beavers have mostly been bad the past three or four years but Blind River is a good-people town of about 3,400 residents that I can’t help but hope sees better days ahead for its junior hockey team.
Kirkland Lake is an example of how a small-market team has flourished with the Gold Miners winning the NOJHL championship in 2013-2014 and finishing second overall during the 2014-2015 regular season only to bow out in the first round of the playoffs.
While I am not a fan of certain Gold Miners fans, it’s hard to cheer against Kirkland Lake.
A town of about 8,500 residents, Kirkland Lake has reversed its economic fortunes over the past several years and maintained growth and stability.
Besides, I have family roots in KL and spent an endless summer there more than 40 years ago, bunking down to $6 nights at the Princess Hotel and giving new meaning to the Deep Purple song Smoke on the Water.
At any rate, I will not deny that I have favourites and I play favourites.
For example, when the Timmins Rock plays the Iroquois Falls Eskis at any time during the NOJHL season, I will be rooting for the underdog.
Bigger-town Timmins may Rock and it may have a parade Marshall who likes to blow his own horn but Iroquois Falls has tradition on its side with the venerable Eskis and a fan base that is among the most loyal in the league.
I love summer breeze and backyard BBQs that feature the coldest of cold cans of beer — while I think ahead to the 2015-2016 NOJHL season and planned road trips that will take me to Blind River, Elliot Lake, Espanola, Rayside-Balfour and Iroquois Falls.
Heck, maybe I will even make a swing out to French River and Powassan.
Would love to but only if Crunch owner Ryan Leonard sends someone to pick me up and get me there.
Here’s to all the teams of the NOJHL.
Here’s to the underdog.